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CORRECTED: Games board probing Grand Theft Auto

July 9, 2005

(Corrects headline to say Grand instead of Grant)

By Lisa Baertlein

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The industry group that sets
ratings for video games is probing whether hidden features
within the blockbuster title “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas”
allows players to make their characters engage in simulated
explicit sex acts.

The series of criminal adventure games from Take-Two
Interactive Software Inc. subsidiary Rockstar Games has been
among the best selling in history, while drawing sharp
criticism for encouraging gratuitous violence.

If the investigation were to lead to a rating change from M
(Mature 17+) to AO (Adult Only), it could limit sales from
major retail outlets.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board “has opened an
investigation into the circumstances surrounding the ‘Hot
Coffee’ modification for (the game) … to determine if there
has been a violation of ESRB Rules and Regulations requiring
full disclosure of pertinent content,” ratings group President
Patricia Vance said in a statement.

According to enthusiast sites, loading the Hot Coffee
modification on a personal computer unlocks minigames that
enable users to make game characters perform sexually explicit
acts.

Rockstar confirmed in an e-mailed statement the existence
of the ESRB investigation and said it is complying fully.

“We also feel confident that the investigation will uphold
the original rating of the game, as the work of the mod
community is beyond the scope of either publishers or the
ESRB,” Rockstar said in the statement.

“If after a thorough and objective investigation of all the
relevant facts surrounding this modification, we determine a
violation of our rules has occurred, we will take appropriate
action,” ESRB’s Vance said.

There have been instances where ESRB has discovered
undisclosed content in a video game and changed a rating, said
an ESRB spokesman, who declined further comment on the current
investigation.

The move from the ESRB comes just days after California
lawmaker Leland Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco, blasted the
game for its violent and sexually explicit content.

The legislator, also a child psychologist, wants the game’s
rating changed to AO. In the past he has pushed for
restrictions on sales of violent video games to minors.

Of the 1,036 game ratings assigned by the ESRB in 2004,
fewer than 1 percent received an AO rating.

The PlayStation2 version of “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas”
was the No. 1 game of 2004, selling just over 5 million copies,
according to NPD Funworld.




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